An anxious quiet settled on New York City like a blanket of fog.
Voters lined up with solemn faces outside polling sites on Tuesday, stoic against a cold wind. Trump Tower stood lifeless and sterile, protected by a row of large Police Department dump trucks and police officers in riot gear. Pedestrians, their facial expressions obscured by surgical masks, hurried by one another wearing “I voted” stickers.
Inside Mazzola Bakery, in Brooklyn, one woman joked that a morning coffee would not be enough. “I’d like a lard bread,” she told the clerk. “And a vodka.”
As far as presidential politics goes, New York City is about as far from a battleground as a place can get. A solid Democratic bloc in a solidly blue state, voters here aren’t wooed like Iowans, or courted like Michiganders. But they have just as much at stake.
Many, many voters here see a Trump victory as both an existential threat to democracy and a very real danger to themselves, their families and their communities.
Outside his polling location in Sunset Park, Louis Ramos, a 37-year-old concierge at a Marriott hotel, said he hadn’t been able to earn his full salary since March. Mr. Ramos said he voted for Joe Biden primarily because the president had exacerbated racism. “I have people in my family who are of African descent,” he said. “I could never vote for Donald Trump and the MAGA crowd.”
As she walked out of her polling site in Brooklyn, Jhanique Daniel, 18, said her first time voting wasn’t exciting so much as a matter of life or death. “I’m really just trying to get Trump out. Black people are dying,” Ms. Daniel said. “I’m just so scared.”
For the first time in history, more than a million New Yorkers voted early this year, easing Election Day lines throughout the city.
At the Jackson Heights Greenmarket in Queens on Sunday, Theresa Luongo said she waited two hours to vote early for Mr. Biden because she wanted to leave nothing to chance. “I feel like the balance of the world is on us,” she said.
Four years ago, I watched mothers in that same neighborhood confidently stride into polling sites with their young daughters, excitedly telling them that a woman could be president.
A lot has happened since then.
Mr. Trump recently described New York as a “ghost town” that had “gone to hell.” Hardly.
This city of immigrants and Holocaust survivors, refugees from the Jim Crow South and transgender Americans, has been both traumatized and politically energized by Mr. Trump’s four years in office.
The city’s voters in 2018 helped elect a Democratic State Senate for the first time in years, ushering in a slew of progressive legislation from rent protections to drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants and stronger abortion protections. When the Trump administration banned travelers from Muslim countries, New Yorkers showed up at the airport in protest.
For months now, they have marched against police brutality in the tens of thousands, many in masks. They are exhausted. Now they are voting, and they hope they will welcome a new president to lead them into brighter days ahead.